As the calendar turns to April, it signals the start of another Major League Baseball season. That makes it the perfect time to check in with Long Beach’s former ballplayers to see how they’re faring on the big stage. This year’s Spring Training had a large contingent of local talent, with a mixed group of established veterans and young talent on the cusp of a big league call-up.
The most highly-regarded of those young prospects is former Long Beach State Dirtbags second baseman Jarren Duran, who has turned himself into an outfielder with the Boston Red Sox. According to MLB.com, Duran is ranked the No. 4 prospect in the Red Sox organization and is projected to make his major league debut this season. The speedy Duran has had a strong spring as a regular member of the lineup, hitting .340 in 47 at-bats with a 1.069 OPS, three home runs, and two stolen bases.
Duran has been joined in Spring Training by a handful of former Dirtbags teammates: LHP Clayton Andrews made six relief appearances with a 4.15 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers, C David Banuelos hit .182 with a home run in his nine games for the Minnesota Twins, and RHP Darren McCaughan tossed 1.2 scoreless innings across two appearances for the Seattle Mariners. All four young Dirtbags have previous Spring Training experience, keeping them on the big league doorstep following a tumultuous 2020 season.
Wilson’s Chris Betts was back in Spring Training with the Tampa Bay Rays, and the power-hitting catcher appeared in eight games for the reigning American League champions, hitting .222 with three RBIs. Former Millikan Ram Spencer Steer got his first Spring Training experience with the Twins this year and the infielder hit .250 in eight at-bats. Steer made a lasting impression in his final at-bat against Boston last Sunday, blasting a long home run beyond the 420-foot sign and over the head of Duran in center field.
This Spring Training has also been important for young big leaguers looking to carve out a role with their clubs. RHP Chase De Jong made his MLB debut in 2017, and has bounced around with a few different organizations before ending up in the Houston Astros bullpen during their run to the American League Championship Series last season. The former Wilson Bruin has enjoyed the best Spring Training of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, looking to provide some needed pitching depth for the rebuilding franchise. De Jong made five appearances and three starts for the Pirates, posting a 1.88 ERA in 14.1 innings with an impressive 0.84 WHIP.
Garrett Hampson is expected to receive regular playing time with the Colorado Rockies this season at second base and in the outfield. The versatile former Dirtbag is now 26 and is looking to earn some staying power in The Show. He played in 24 games for the Rockies this spring, hitting .283 while going 6-for-6 in stolen base attempts. Hampson finished the spring on a high note, reaching base all four times and launching a three-run home run (his first of the spring) during Monday’s game against San Diego.
Meanwhile, a trio of Lakewood Lancers are continuing their big league careers. C Travis d’Arnaud is back with the World Series runner-up Atlanta Braves, looking to build on the career year he had in 2020. J.P. Crawford is locked in as the starting shortstop for the Seattle Mariners and has shown improved plate discipline this spring, drawing 12 walks in 52 plate appearances while swiping three bases. Veteran infielder Matt Duffy–of both Lakewood and Long Beach State lineage–was named to the 40-man roster of the Chicago Cubs after hitting .290 in 14 games this March.
Former Wilson Bruins star Aaron Hicks is set to be the everyday center fielder for the New York Yankees this year. The 31-year-old is now in the second year of the 7-year/$70 million contract he signed with the Yankees last May.
Though the number of Long Beach State products in the big leagues has dwindled a bit in recent seasons, there’s still some veteran Dirtbags holding down the fort until the next wave arrives. San Francisco Giants 3B Evan Longoria is entering his 14th big league season and has been stellar this spring, batting .346 with four home runs and 10 RBIs in just 26 at-bats.
Reigning All-Star Jeff McNeil should be a key cog for the New York Mets in 2021 as he enters his age-28 season, playing at third base or in the outfield. Veteran RHP Bryan Shaw has been solid out of the Cleveland bullpen this spring with a 2.45 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 11.0 innings pitched. Fellow relievers Shane Carle and Nick Vincent also got Spring Training invites with the Cincinnati Reds and Texas Rangers, respectively.
Of course, the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers will also have some local flavor this season with Long Beach-born third baseman Justin Turner on the roster for his eighth season with the club. Turner signed a 2-year, $34 million contract this offseason to remain in LA.
All 30 teams will be in action for a full Opening Day on Thursday, with the first set of games beginning just after 10 a.m. PT.